Balance Is Broadcasters', Viewers' Call

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The Radio-Television News Directors Association agrees with Federal Communications Commission chairman Michael Powell that government isn't in the business of prior restraint.

Responding to the Sinclair flap that has some legislators pushing for FCC investigations, RTNDA President Barbara Cochran told B&C Thursday: "We fully support the free speech rights of broadcasters. Freedom of the press is a bedrock first Amendment principle and one with which the government should not tamper. Neither the Congress nor the FCC should be the national arbiter of newsworthiness, nor should government attempt to judge the wisdom, accuracy or balance of any station's news product."

Cochrans said it was important to draw the distinction between legal questions raised by threats of government intervention and the ethical questions raised by editorial decisions

On the question of whether the Sinclair broadcast qualifies as news, Cochran refers broadcasters to the association's code of ethics (, which, among other things, says that "service in the public interest creates an obligation to reflect the diversity in the community and to guard against oversimplification of issues or events and to provide a full range of information."

Cochran says decisions about how well broadcasters are meeting those obligations are the province of news organizations and audiences. "Government should not, and cannot, interfere in those decisions concerning broadcast content."